When you receive a prescription from your doctor, you might struggle to understand what is written on it.
Most blame it on doctors' notoriously poor penmanship, and while it is easy to blame bad handwriting for not being able to understand a prescription, that's not really where the problem lies.
Part of the reason why doctor's prescriptions are so difficult to decipher is the fact that they make use of Latin abbreviations and medical terminology that most of us don't understand.
This makes it challenging to understand a prescription – but it can be done.
Understanding the components of a prescription
Your prescription will always consist of a few staple components, such as names and contact numbers. Below this, your doctor will write the relevant drug information:
- This will include the name of the medicine your doctor is prescribing, the dosage (size and frequency of a dose of the medicine) and how each dose should be administered.
- Apart from the instructions for the pharmacist regarding the dosage of the medicine the doctor will also indicate how many times you can refill the prescription.
- Your doctor will sign the prescription in order to confirm that it was completed by a medical professional.
- While prescription forms vary, the same information must always be included on the form.
- Thanks to modern technology, your doctor can now email your prescription to a pharmacy of your choice. Many find this process more convenient.
Reading the dosage information correctly
The number that is next to the name of the medication prescribed is the amount you should take per dose. The dosage will vary, depending on the medication prescribed.
While most pills will be described in milligrams, measurements can also appear in grams and micrograms.
Your doctor may write out the full word for this or they may use abbreviations. The abbreviation for milligrams is mg, g is for grams, and mcg is for micrograms. If you are taking a liquid medicine or medicine by syringe, the dosage information will be in millilitres. The abbreviation for this is ml.
Understanding the abbreviations
On the prescription form, the line underneath the concentration of the medication and dosage, will be the instructions on how many doses you are to take and the way they should be taken. The main point that should be noted here is that doctors usually make use of medical abbreviations, mostly based on Latin phrases. The average person would not be able to understand these without a medical background.
Interpreting how the medication should be taken
The dosage might be followed by an abbreviation for how often your medication should be taken. This refers to the number of time a week or day it should be taken. Next to this, your doctor will write any special circumstances under which you should take the medication. This will indicate instructions such as the need to take the medication with food or on an empty stomach.
However, as mentioned before, not all doctors make use of medical shorthand. Your doctor might, for example, write out "daily" next to your dosage information. For controlled substances such as painkillers, your doctor might write out the reason for taking the medication, such as the phrase "pain" if you need certain medications after surgery or for a chronic condition.
If you are not exactly sure how to read the prescription you are given when you visit your doctor, you can ask them to explain their instructions before you leave the surgery to avoid any medical errors. However, you don't have to worry too much if you don't entirely understand the prescription as the dispensing pharmacist will always provide detailed printed instructions on labels on the medication.
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